New York Liberty clinch final spot in 2021 WNBA playoffs

The New York Liberty are playoff-bound for the first time since 2017 thanks to Sunday losses in Washington and Los Angeles.

The New York Liberty’s 25th anniversary celebration isn’t over just yet.

For the first time since 2017, the Liberty (12-20) will partake in the WNBA Playoffs. Placed in the eighth and final slot of the tournament, New York will take on the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury in the opening round’s single-game elimination on Thursday night (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The game will be held at Grand Canyon University Arena as the Mercury’s regular home of Footprint Center is occupied for a concert.

Though the Liberty’s season wrapped on Friday night, Sunday’s results allowed the team to punch its ticket. The wearers of seafoam needed losses from both the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks to extend their season. Fortunately for New York, the Minnesota Lynx and Dallas Wings were happy to provide an assist.

Minnesota topped Washington 83-77 in the nation’s capital (allowing them to move past defending champion Seattle for the No. 3 seed) while Dallas narrowly defeated Los Angeles by an 87-84 margin to finish things off. The Liberty set up the Sunday scenarios with a 91-80 win over Washington on Friday night at Barclays Center, a win that snapped an eight-game losing streak.

New York now returns to the playoffs after enduring a two-win showing in the Bradenton bubble, one that forced the team to rely on the services of seven rookies, including touted top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu. The Oregon alumna partook in only three games before an injury erased most of her freshman campaign. She returned to a revamped Liberty squad that brought in Bradenton’s Most Improved Player and Rutgers Betnijah Laney, as well as WNBA champions Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb through a trade.

This Liberty season, their first as full-time tenants in Barclays Center, began with wins in five of its first six games, the first of which ended in a game-winning buzzer-beater from Ionescu. Though things cooled down in terms of wins and losses, the Liberty made several proud strides throughout the season.

Laney was invited to her first WNBA All-Star Game while Ionescu earned the 10th triple-double in WNBA history in a May victory over Minnesota. Paced by Whitcomb’s 76 (second-best in the league behind Arike Ogunbowale of Dallas), the Liberty also set a new WNBA record with 321 successful three-point attempts. Bec Allen finished third in the league in steals (1.6 per game) while Michaela Onyenwere (8.6 points, 2.9 rebounds per game) is considered a front-runner for the league’s Rookie of the Year Award.

The Liberty and Mercury, two of the WNBA’s three remaining original franchises that remain situated in their original markets (Los Angeles is the other) have met twice in the WNBA Playoffs. New York took the first matchup to advance to the inaugural WNBA Finals in 1997 while Phoenix upset the Liberty as an eighth seed in 2016. Phoenix won two of the three matchups between the teams this season, the most recent being an 80-64 triumph on August 27 in Brooklyn. Two members of the Liberty’s bubble squad, Kia Nurse and Megan Walker, currently reside on the Mercury roster as they were dealt out west in the Howard/Whitcomb deal that also involved the Seattle Storm.

Full WNBA Playoff Schedule

Date Game Time (ET) TV
September 23 No. 7 Dallas @ No. 6 Chicago 8 p.m. ESPN2
September 23 No. 8 LIBERTY @ No. 5 Phoenix 10 p.m. ESPN2
September 26 TBD @ No. 3 Minnesota TBD ABC or ESPN2
September 26 TBD @ No. 4 Seattle TBD ABC or ESPN2
September 28 TBD @ No. 1 Connecticut (Game 1) 8 p.m. ESPN2
September 28 TBD @ No. 2 Las Vegas (Game 1) 10 p.m. ESPN2
September 30 TBD @ Connecticut (Game 2) 8 p.m. ESPN2
September 30 TBD @ Las Vegas (Game 2) 10 p.m. ESPN2
October 3 Connecticut @ TBD (Game 3) TBD TBD
October 3 Las Vegas @ TBD (Game 3) TBD TBD
October 6 Connecticut @ TBD (Game 4)* TBD TBD
October 6 Las Vegas @ TBD (Game 4)* TBD TBD
October 8 TBD @ Connecticut (Game 5)* TBD ESPN2
October 8 TBD @ Las Vegas (Game 5) TBD ESPN2
October 10 WNBA Finals (Game 1) 3 p.m. ABC
October 13 WNBA Finals (Game 2) 9 p.m. ESPN
October 15 WNBA Finals (Game 3) 9 p.m. ESPN2
October 17 WNBA Finals (Game 4)* 3 p.m. ESPN
October 19 WNBA Finals (Game 5)* 9 p.m. ESPN2
*-If Necessary

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Wednesday’s loss at Connecticut

The New York Liberty’s WNBA playoff hopes were dealt a major blow after a tough second half in Uncasville.

The New York Liberty’s playoff bid came up snake eyes at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Outscored by a 54-22 margin in the second, the Liberty dropped its eighth consecutive contest, falling by a 98-67 final to the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday. New York (11-20) will now need a win over the Washington Mystics in Friday night’s regular season finale in Brooklyn (7 p.m. ET, YES) and some help from their friends to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

The Liberty jumped out to a 16-5 lead in the early stages of the first quarter, which they won by a 24-20 advantage. However, the wheels fell off in the second half, drawing the ire of head coach Walt Hopkins.

“We gave up. I think the team gave up in the second half, they got punched me four or five times turned the ball over a few times and Connecticut showed why they’re the best team in the league and we showed why we’re having trouble closing games,” Hopkins bluntly declared in the aftermath. “We have to get tougher. You got to want it more, and we gave up.”

New York can still reach the postseason through a win on Friday, plus a further loss from Washington on Sunday afternoon and a Los Angeles Sparks defeat over their final two games.

Six players reached double-figures for Connecticut (25-6), which not only won its franchise-record 13th game in a row but also clinched the top seed in the playoffs.

ESM looks back on three silver linings from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

12 points, 5 assists, 2 steals

Ionescu has reached double-figures in all ten games of the post-Olympic slate. She vowed to help the Liberty re-establish its never-say-die identity that they’ve carried and lived up to for most of the season.

“We’re going to play our heart out, regardless of whether it’s a must-win for us,” Ionescu said. “It’s about figuring out what we need to do to win, and how to finish this year on the right note.”

 

2nd Star: Michaela Onyenwere

14 points (5-of-6 FG)

Onyenwere has come off the bench over the last two Liberty games after spending most of the year in the starting lineup. The Rookie of the Year frontrunner has responded well to the new role as a second unit energizer, hitting 7-of-9 from the field in the last couple.

The UCLA alumna provided a moment of levity in the somber aftermath when she declared the only difference between her starter’s mindset and reserve mindset was her lack of a pregame dance routine.

“We didn’t respond the way we wanted to,” Onyenwere analyzed. “We know at this point we have a lot to fight for. We didn’t necessarily show that in the best way.”

1st Star: Natasha Howard

25 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks

Howard continued her decent return from injury, sparking the Liberty’s hot start with 10 points in the first quarter. While Hopkins pointed out that she was one of the few New Yorkers that kept her energy going throughout the game, he did that the 18 turnovers between she and Ionescu were “unacceptable”.

“Second half, we kind of gave in,” Howard said. “We stopped doing the things we were doing in the first half…we weren’t being tough. That’s the difference…that’s what we’ve been preaching: we’ve got to be tough.”

Howard briefly left the game in the final quarter with an ankle injury that forced her to go to the locker room under the supervision of trainer Terri Acosta. She said after the game that it was merely a “tweak” and she was able to finish things off without incident.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Saturday’s loss at Dallas

The New York Liberty’s playoff dreams were dealt a major blow in their penultimate road game of the season in Dallas.

Thrilling September matchups between New York and Dallas are no longer limited to the gridiron. These, in fact, bear greater importance on their respective league’s playoff picture.

Alas for the metropolitans, however, another loss built on development has dealt a sizable blow to their postseason aspirations.

The Dallas Wings took advantage of a 21-10 advantage in the fourth quarter, paced by a combined 34 points off the bench from Marina Mabrey and Satou Sabally, to earn a narrow 77-76 victory over the New York Liberty on Saturday night in the Lone Star State. Dallas (13-17) clinched its first WNBA playoff berth since 2018, leaving only one spot up for grabs as the end of the regular season approaches.

The Liberty (11-19) are one of three teams fighting for that eighth and final seed with two games left on their regular season schedule. That pair starts Wednesday against Connecticut (7 p.m. ET, CBSSN) and concludes with a matchup against their fellow fighters from Washington on Friday. New York has lost control of the final seeds through a 1-8 stretch in the post-Olympic slate.

ESM has three stars from the latest defeat…

3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

18 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists

In the midst of some brutal defeats, Ionescu is posting Ionescu-esque numbers again. She has reached double figures in scoring in all nine post-Olympic games to date, averaging 14.3 points and 6.0 rebounds and assists in the first nine games back. Head coach Walt Hopkins was quick to point out the silver lining of Ionescu’s return to form, calling her “strides” a major pillar of the long-term picture.

2nd Star: Natasha Howard

16 points, 11 rebounds

Though some turnovers at the worst possible team clouded the metropolitan progress, Howard earned her third double-double in the post-Olympic slate in the midst of defeat. She’s shooting 60 percent of the floor (15-of-25) over her past two contests.

 

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

19 points, 6 assists 

If anyone knows about the proverbial “process” of WNBA success, it’s Laney. The Rutgers alumna endured spent four seasons in professional purgatory before a breakout campaign in the Bradenton bubble netted her last season’s Most Improved Player award. Laney has kept the momentum up in her return to the tri-state area, topping the Liberty in scoring. She took on a verbal role in Saturday’s postgame comments, citing “simple” issues that lead to losses amidst the progress away from the scoreboard.

“We’re not really dwelling on it, but learning from it…We see it, we know it, but we just got to get over the hump of just the little things that have just been holding us back,” Laney said of the losing streak and the hidden silver linings. “Once we really focus in and are able to control those things we’ll be in good shape, we just have to marry that with the progress that we’ve been making…We’ve had progress, so we keep that, going into these games, we just tweak the things that have been holding us back. I think that the progress in the detail that we’ve been making these past few games flow will hopefully show up and give us the results that we want.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Thursday’s loss at Seattle

The New York Liberty controlled Thursday’s game for three quarters, but they still couldn’t steal one from the defending champions.

Facing an increasingly dire situation in the WNBA’s playoff standings, the New York Liberty needed to steal one from the defending champion Seattle Storm on Thursday night at Angel of the Winds Arena.

For three quarters, they seemed well on their way. But Breanna Stewart unleashed her personal brand of Seattle storm on the reeling New Yorkers.

The MVP candidate tallied a game-best 33 points, helping the Storm fully reverse a 10-point deficit against the Liberty en route to an 85-75 triumph at home. New York (11-18) has now lost six in a row as they’ve fallen out of the WNBA’s current playoff bracket. The idle Washington Mystics now hold the eighth and final seed as the WNBA season enters its final stages.

New York has three games remaining as they’ll next play on Sept. 11 in Dallas (8 p.m. ET, WNBA League Pass).

ESM has three stars from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Natasha Howard

15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals

A vital piece from the Storm’s victorious endeavor in the Bradenton bubble, Howard made her return to her former Seattle stomping grounds and was bestowed a championship ring alongside Sami Whitcomb (who played 12 minutes in her second game back from injury). She shot a season-best 64 percent from the field (7-of-11). Making Thursday’s loss even tougher to bear was the fact the Liberty were unable to secure Howard a special birthday gift: the three-time champion’s return to the Pacific Northwest coincided with her 30th celebration.

2nd Star: Bec Allen

17 points, 2 steals

Allen’s streak of earning at least eight rebounds stopped at three games, but she fell just two points short of her season-best in scoring. The Australian Opal has become one of the most productive New Yorkers since returning from Tokyo, averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds over the past seven games. Thursday marked the fifth time in that span that she has reached double figures in scoring. Head coach Walt Hopkins referred to Allen’s contributions as “tremendous” in the aftermath.

“Her energy has been so consistent,” Hopkins said. “Bec somebody who has a tendency to be hard on herself. She has not let herself get out of the game in a long time. She’s not let herself get frustrated and take herself out. She’s been really resilient and really proud of the way that she’s grown in terms of her emotional and mental approach to what she’s doing.”

1st Star: Sabrina Ionescu

20 points, 7 assists

In the midst of some tough New York efforts, Ionescu is starting to put up Ionescu-esque numbers against. A return to the PNW area did the ex-Oregon Duck some good. With former collegiate head coach Kelly Graves in attendance, Ionescu helped the Liberty build a consistent lead in the first half. She was mostly held in check in the second half, but she still managed to facilitate and set up metropolitan opportunities. Ionescu has reached double-figures in scoring in all eight post-Olympic games and has averaged just over six assists in that span.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Friday’s loss vs. Phoenix

Sabrina Ionescu nearly earned another triple-double but it wasn’t enough to put the New York Liberty back on the right track.

Sabrina Ionescu is starting to reach familiar, historic heights again. Alas, even that doesn’t appear to be enough for the New York Liberty to get back on the right track.

Skylar Diggins-Smith tallied 27 points en route to an 80-64 victory for the Phoenix Mercury at Barclays Center on Friday night. Another sterling performance from Diggins-Smith, who also had seven assists, allowed the Mercury to sweep a crucial two-game set on the road from New York (11-16). She also had 27 in the prior victory on Wednesday night.

Diggins-Smith’s showing overshadowed what was nearly another historic outing for Ionescu, who fell one assist short of her second career triple-double. She previously earned the 10th such showing in WNBA history on May 18 against Minnesota.

Phoenix (15-10) has won a WNBA-best six in a row while the Liberty have dropped their last four. New York is currently tied with the Los Angeles Sparks for the Association’s final playoff spot, though the latter has two games in hand. The Liberty suffered a bit of a big blow as Jazmine Jones returned to the lineup after four games off with a right foot injury but had to leave with another lower-body ailment in the second half.

ESM has three game balls from Friday’s defeat…

3rd Star: Bec Allen

8 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks

Allen’s streak of double-figure showings in scoring ended at a career-best four games in a row. But she continued to provide an interior prescience, matching her eight-board showing from Wednesday in her second game subbing for Sami Whitcomb in the starting five. That tally allowed her to set a new career-best in rebounding (75) breaking past the 67 she picked up in 2017.

2nd Star: Natasha Howard

18 points, 7 rebounds

Another poor shooting night doomed the Liberty, who sank only 37 percent of their attempts from the field. Howard was the lone exception to the carnage. She slowly began to resemble her old dominant self with an 8-of-14 output, her first night in the black since the first game in the post-Olympic slate on August 15. Head coach Walt Hopkins noted that Howard looked “poised in the post” in Friday’s output, which saw the Liberty force a tie in the third quarter after falling behind by as much as 19 in the first half. Howard herself gained some clarity on what she and the Liberty need as they prepare for the final push over the next five games.

“The little things we can control are rebounding, turnovers, and communication…I need to be more of a leader on the floor and not get frustrated,” she said. “We did really well pushing the ball and screening…we’ll need to build on that when we play Minnesota (on Tuesday).”

1st Star: Sabrina Ionescu

12 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists

Not everything is perfect for Ionescu, even though she nearly became the first player in WNBA history to earn multiple triple-doubles in the regular season (Sheryl Swoopes had one in both the regular season and the postseason). She shot 5-of-16 from the field on Friday and turned the ball over three times. As injuries and calamities continue to pile up for a Liberty franchise in desperate need of on-court stability, a big opportunity lies at the end of her de facto rookie season: if she can somehow push the Liberty into the playoffs over these final hours, it would be a solid boost of momentum in what’s been a roller-coaster WNBA career thus far.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Sunday’s loss at Minnesota

A brilliant return for Natasha Howard wasn’t enough for the New York Liberty to end Minnesota’s WNBA-long eight-game winning streak.

The New York Liberty enjoyed an eventful return to WNBA action on Sunday night with an electric showing from Natasha Howard. Alas for New York, it didn’t come with a win.

Sylvia Fowles fell a rebound short of a double-double with 18 points, shooting 9-of-10 from the field in an 88-78 victory for the Minnesota Lynx at Target Center. New York (10-12) maintained its hold on a WNBA playoff spot thanks to Sunday losses from Washington and Dallas while Minnesota (13-7) stretched its WNBA-best winning streak to eight games. The WNBA returned to regular season action on Sunday after a month-long break for the All-Star Game in Las Vegas, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the Commissioner’s Cup competition won by the Seattle Storm.

ESM has three stars from the Liberty’s return…

3rd Star: Sami Whitcomb

12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals

Despite Minnesota shutting holding the Liberty’s fearsome outside unit to a season-low 16 three-point attempts, Whitcomb managed to pick up where she left off from her appearance in the WNBA’s three-point competition in Vegas (coming in third place in the so-called Allie Quigley Invitational) by sinking two triples, including one that helped give the Liberty the lead at the end of the third.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

14 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists

Burdened with an “overuse” injury during the first portion of the season, she came back recharged and re-energized in the first game back. Ionescu began to resemble her old, dominant, agile self through strong on-court movements and shot 6-of-11 from the field. She has now shot at least 50 percent in three of her last five games, showing a drastic improvement from an 0-for-6 showing in the first half’s finale against Connecticut. Ionescu also continued to develop some strong early chemistry with Howard, who planned to create a “Shaq and Kobe”-like relationship upon her arrival this winter.

1st Star: Natasha Howard

30 points, 4 rebounds

During the pregame, Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said that Howard, back on the court for the first time in 15 games, would be on a “loose” minutes restriction. He declined to put a number on it, as he wanted to see how Howard was feeling as Sunday night progressed. It’s safe to say that Howard was feeling like her old self, scoring 20 points in the first half, even sinking two triples from the outside, as she wound up coming three points short of her career-high. Howard’s return comes at the perfect time as the Liberty fight for a playoff spot. Her expertise as a Defensive Player of the Year and three-time WNBA champion could come up huge as New York seeks traction.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Monday’s win vs. Dallas

The New York Liberty won consecutive games for the first time since May, beating the Dallas Wings in a Monday thriller.

Thrilling athletic contests between New York and Dallas are no longer limited to Sunday afternoons and evenings in the fall.

Sabrina Ionescu earned a double-double on a record-setting evening, as the New York Liberty earned a 99-96 win over the Dallas Wings on Monday night at Barclays Center. The Liberty (10-9) earned consecutive wins for the first time since May 23-24 and set a franchise record with 15 three-pointers in a single game.

Five players from the Liberty reached double figures, paced by 26 from Sami Whitcomb and 18 more from Betnijah Laney. Jazmine Jones would add 17 more off the bench. Dallas (9-10) enjoyed a game-high 23 off the bench from Isabelle Harrison. New York has won each of the first two matchups and will face the Wings one last time on September 11.

ESM has three game balls to bestow from the victory…

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals 

Gray once again made her prescience felt in the interior and came up big as the game reached its dying stages, once again proving herself more than worthy of her newly attained full-season deal.

As Dallas inched their way back into the game, Gray helped preserve the Liberty lead, first earning a crucial rebound after a missed Harrison free throw that soon became Laney’s record-tying triple. After an Ionescu miss on the other end, Gray wrenched the rebound away from a Dallas pursuer to put it back in and preserve the seven-point advantage. When Dallas had one more shot after Jones missed a free throw, Gray kept the ball in the air to round out the clock and avoid a foul.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

13 points (5-of-9 FG), 12 assists

Ionescu’s rediscovered shooting touch couldn’t have come at a better time for New York. The Liberty are now 5-0 when she shoots at least 50 percent from the floor, and she has now done so in consecutive games. Going up against former Oregon teammate Satou Sabally, Ionescu earned her first double-double since May 23, uniting with fellow Pac-12 alumna Gray once again for some big baskets.

1st Star: Sami Whitcomb

26 points (10-of-16 FG), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals

Whitcomb, whom many have credited as being the heart and soul of this Liberty roster…as well as its biggest All-Star snub…did it all on Monday night. She helped the Liberty get off to a strong start with 15 first half points and finished in with some crucial daggers, including the triple that not only broke the team record but gave the Liberty a sizable six-point lead with just under a minute remaining.

Though Whitcomb is best known for her outside endeavors…she was one triple short of tying the single-game record she shares with five others…her rebounding and interior work has come up huge for a Liberty squad that’s still treading water while Natasha Howard heals. Whitcomb has averaged over seven rebounds a game over her last four games and Monday marked the seventh time in the last eight games where she had at least six.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Saturday’s win vs. Washington

In an utterly symbolic showing, the New York Liberty erased a deficit as high as 20 to earn a big win over Tina Charles and the Mystics.

Independence Day weekend featured the red, white, and blue and some early fireworks at Barclays Center.

The hosting New York Liberty came out clean on the other side, erasing a 20-point deficit to earn an 82-79 victory over the Washington Mystics on Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn. The game marked the return of Queens native and all-time Liberty leading scorer Tina Charles. She earned 31 points and 16 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to topple her former squadron. It was an emotional victory for New York, who lost rookie DiDi Richards to a neck sprain injury in the third quarter.

ESM has three game balls to distribute for the victorious Liberty (9-9), who return to action on Monday night against the Dallas Wings (7 p.m. ET, YES)…

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

11 points, 6 rebounds

On her fifth New York term…her third this season alone…Gray came up big in her first game back with the team. She provided a strong defensive prescience, hindering Charles and providing strong double-teams when she good, and came up with some crucial rebounds. Gary’s late baskets, off assists from Sabrina Ionescu, showcased her cutting abilities in the paint, a vital skill in the Walt Hopkins system. Looking at the way she played on Saturday, it was as if she never left.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

15 points (6-7 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 assists

Slowly but surely, Ionescu (somewhat stifled by a 25-minute ceiling/pitch count) was starting to look like her old self after missing two games due to what was described as an “overuse” injury. The one thing that was missing, however, was her shooting touch. Though she found other ways to contribute (averaging 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists over her last four games), there’s no doubt the Liberty missed her scoring prowess. After Saturday’s nearly flawless showing, New York is 4-0 when she shoots at least 50 percent from the field.

1st Star: Jazmine Jones

17 points, 5 rebounds

The departure of Richards was particularly tough on Jones, who has taken the second-round pick under her wing. She has likewise united with Richards to create a lively bench atmosphere, making a difference even when she’s out of the ball game. Jones did what she could to make her fallen teammate proud, as immediately after Richards’ departure, she fulfilled her promises of energy with a somersault dive into the Washington bench to go after a loose ball. She then went on to sink a three-pointer and two more at the foul line in the first minute after. Adding to the timeliness of the afternoon…the Liberty acquired Jones with the 12th overall pick of the 2020 WNBA Draft. That pick was obtained through none other than the Tina Charles deal with the Mystics.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Tuesday’s loss vs. Chicago

The New York Liberty’s return to Brooklyn didn’t go as planned, as they ended up on the wrong end of a blowout against the Chicago Sky.

Candace Parker fell just short of Barclays Center’s second WNBA triple-double, putting up 23 points and 12 rebounds to go with six assists. She was one of four Chicago Sky representatives who reached double-figures as they rolled to an 92-72 victory over the New York Liberty. The game was the first of a two-game set between New York (7-7) and Chicago, with the latter scheduled for Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, YES/Twitter). With the win, the Sky (8-7) have now won six in a row.

ESM has game balls for the New York silver linings…

3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu 

6 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds

Ionescu slowly started to resemble her dominant self on Tuesday night, looking as fast and athletic as she has been since missing two games with an “overuse” injury. Though New York was drastically outplayed by the resurgent Sky, they were undoubtedly a better team with her on the court. Time will tell if she’s able to resume her starting lineup duties, though Bec Allen has filled in quite efficiently in her place, so there’s no need to rush.

2nd Star: Jazmine Jones

11 points (5-8 FG), 5 rebounds, 2 blocks

Jones did what she did best in an effort to stem the bleeding: providing energy, even if it came in the form of expressing PG-13-displeasure at the officials (who awarded the Liberty only 11 free throws on Tuesday night). The All-Rookie nominee has reached double-figures in three of her last five games after doing so only once in the first nine contests. She also did a solid job of crashing the boards, hauling in five on the defensive end.

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

18 points (7-12 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 assists

Laney fell short of her traditional 20 but rediscovered her shooting touch after the recent four-game road trip brought her back down to earth a little bit. With the WNBA having announced a unique All-Star Game format in Las Vegas (pitting the United States’ womens’ Olympic basketball against a dozen WNBA All-Stars), Laney continues to make her case for a nomination, having missed on last year’s edition with the season confined to the Bradenton bubble.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Liberty: Three stars from Thursday’s loss at Las Vegas

The return of Sabrina Ionescu wasn’t enough for the New York Liberty to avoid another one-sided defeat in Las Vegas.

The best news emerging from Thursday night’s New York Liberty game is likely the fact they probably won’t have to return to Michelob Ultra Arena this season.

Sabrina Ionescu made her return as a reserve, but it wasn’t enough to reverse New York’s fortunes. Six Las Vegas Aces reached double-figures in scoring, paced by 18 from Kelsey Plum in a 103-76 victory. The Liberty (6-6) have now dropped five of their last six games after a 5-1 start. They’re 0-5 all-time in Sin City (since 2018), which hosts one of the WNBA’s original franchises in their third incarnation (previously based in Salt Lake City and San Antonio). Las Vegas (10-3) has swept the three-game season set, also winning by 22 on Tuesday.

ESM has three silver linings from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Rebecca Allen

14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals

Allen has been filling Ionescu’s role in the starting five and but she continued to make her case for inclusion on the shortlist for Sixth Woman of the Year. Similar to her ten-minute takeover in the teams’ long meeting in Brooklyn earlier this month (14 points in the second quarter), Allen kept the Liberty’s fight going in the fourth quarter, picking up a dozen points to keep things semi-respectable.

2nd Star: Betnijah Laney

20 points, 4 assists

It came in yet another disheartening defeat, but Laney once again earned 20 after missing the mark in Tuesday’s matchup. The return to 20 points comes just in time for the start of All-Star Game voting for a game set to be held in…Las Vegas.

New York is 6-4 when Laney hits her magic 20.

1st Star: Reshanda Gray

17 rebounds, 4 rebounds 

Gray is in the midst of her fourth term in New York, added on a hardship contract with Kiah Stokes competing overseas. As Stokes was not on Turkey’s EuroBasket roster for the upcoming tournament, it stands to reason that Gray’s metropolitan endeavors may be coming to an end.

But after Thursday’s display, it’s hard to justify sending her off into the WNBA wilderness. Not only is Gray a bona fide WNBA veteran that shouldn’t be reduced to hardship contracts for domestic work, but her ability to infiltrate the paint and work with the roll can’t be denied. Gray also became a thorn in the side of Liz Cambage, who voiced her frustrations to the officials to no avail. If anything, Gray continues to build her reputation as a walking, breathing, flesh-and-blood case for WNBA expansion, whether it’s through roster spots or cities.

The Liberty return to action on Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Sparks (4 p.m. ET, ESPN). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags